Rockstars of Tax
An interview with Eliza Alberts-Muller from Deloitte Netherlands
Tax plays a critical role in S/4HANA implementations. Europe’s leading expert in this field Deloitte Netherlands Tax Technology Partner Eliza Alberts-Muller spent a couple of days in Helsinki working on-site with Johanna Oksa and the other Finnish team members. Eliza and Johanna compared their experiences and concluded that in a nutshell the key to success for tax in a S/4HANA implementation is to understand what the program is about, define the tax priorities, and make your business case. Please read the full interview below.
11 May 2023
Johanna: Hi Eliza! Great to see you in Finland again! I recall that this is already the third time within a short period. What brings you here this time?
Eliza: Thanks for having me, Johanna! As you know, there are multiple ongoing S/4HANA tax initiatives with Deloitte’s Finnish clients—this time I am working on-site with one of them.
Johanna: I really appreciate having you here, supporting the delivery for Finnish clients. I know you have tax and SAP experience extending over more than 20 years—that is a long journey! Please shortly describe how things have changed during your long career.
Eliza: Sure! I would say, back in the day, we focused on trying to get bits and pieces to work within the system and a big number of tax tasks were still addressed outside the system. Compared with ERP implementations today, the biggest change is that we now need to take a holistic position due to business models developing continuously.
Johanna: Exactly, this is the fundamental starting point in all recent discussions related to tax in SAP.
Eliza: Also, the real-time regulatory environment forces us to take a more integrated approach to tax from a systems perspective. This is important for our clients as their tax teams are very often facing this kind of implementation for the first time and there isn’t such muscle memory from previous implementations like other functions may have. Nowadays, tax teams are much more involved in the implementations and tax stream as its own right plays a remarkable bigger role, also from the effort perspective.
Johanna: This is exactly the topic I'm discussing with many clients. They are being open and honest as this is their first time facing a bigger tax transformation or tax stream in an SAP S/4HANA or ERP implementation. As an introduction to the topic, I've been sending some of them the great article that you have written together with SAP. What is the key to success in tax in S/4HANA implementation?
Eliza: That’s a good question. I think the key message is to make deliberate choices as there is no standard plug-in solution for tax in SAP. Tax-sensitize the other business processes within the ERP system so the right data will flow into your tax processes within the ERP system and into any tax solutions you need on top of the ERP. Understand what the program is about, define the tax priorities, and make your business case. And something that is too often underestimated: prepare. Start early, identify your requirements, acceptance criteria, and key design decisions. Finally, educate yourself so you can take the right steps in a timely manner on this journey.
Johanna: Thanks. That all makes sense. On the other hand, what would you mention as the biggest challenges or misunderstandings regarding how taxes are being done as part of SAP or as part of finance?
Eliza: Tax is still often perceived as a small part of record to report within a finance stream and therefore a limited amount of effort is expected be needed in order to design, build, and test it in systems. That is not the ideal way to approach tax as tax today is more dynamic than ever before. Tax should be considered as its own stream, owning the implementation of tax-owned processes and also responsible for the end-to-end integration of tax into other processes. The importance of the latter is often underestimated.
Johanna: That is my experience as well.
Eliza: The other big misunderstanding is, like I said, that there is a standard plug-in solution for tax. That is not the case. The tax scope for S/4HANA implementation must always be determined separately per client, considering their current state, future target state, geographical footprint, and key design decisions. That is the situation where most clients need our help: defining the optimal scope and a roadmap for achieving that.
Johanna: I fully agree, and I am happy to see that our clients are more and more aware of these messages. What about your daily work leading and coaching Deloitte delivery teams? What makes this work fun?
Eliza: Of course, helping our clients in navigating these waters and seeing them develop their capabilities in the area of tax in SAP and achieve their tax vision while respecting the pace and structure of these large transformative programs, that is really rewarding.
One of the greatest moments recently was a go-live for one big S/4HANA implementation where we had a great virtual team from multiple European countries—including Finnish colleagues—and we delivered the client the new capability of being able to use Deloitte’s ITL SAP add-on tool. This was a great example that we at Deloitte—on top of our core SAP S/4 capabilities—also have expertise in all leading software products and can innovate based on our own technologies.
Johanna: Agree, it was really a great moment to get that big project to go-live! But you don’t have too much time to celebrate now—next week you are traveling to India. What’s the purpose of your trip?
Eliza: That’s correct. I’m visiting one of our Deloitte delivery centers in India to meet the local team members. We have a talented team of around 30 professionals in India and the team is growing. They are all tax technologists and have a strong combination of SAP and tax expertise. Those resources are critical in order to ensure an optimal delivery model for our clients. And, as you can imagine, with the “war for talent” when it comes to tax technology experts, India is a very important market.
Johanna: That’s true. Please give my greetings to the team! I want to cover one more important topic: You're also one of the creators of the so-called Methods and Tools for tax—can you tell us a little bit about that?
Eliza: At Deloitte we are continuously developing ourselves and the way we deliver our programs in order to ensure both quality in delivery and a great talent experience. Methods and Tools refers to a methodology where we have brought everything together and have one way of working across Europe when it comes to S/4HANA implementations and tax. That methodology helps in defining scope and managing it, tracking progress, and of course, delivering the tax part alongside Deloitte consulting, our clients IT team, or another system integrator. All in all, it streamlines the borderless delivery model, as well as the ways of working, and delivers the benefits to the client accordingly.
Johanna: Let’s finalize with the fact that Methods and Tools rocks! On the rock theme, if a tax journey within an S/4HANA implementation would be a rock song, what would it be?
Eliza: This is a very difficult question. I would say “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses or “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. These are good ones if one is having a difficult moment. Anyway, “Peace of Mind” by Boston would be my favorite as that is what you should have once done and that is therefore my final answer to the question.
Johanna: I like that—let’s listen to it!